The Great Christmas Awakening and the Christian Connection
8 June 1878 – 29 January 1951
How could there be such a reduction in problem drinking? Boxing Day 1903 saw 40,000 people in Wales, mainly miners go to Cardiff for a big celebration and many of them ended up all the worse for their drinking as was quite common. Boxing Day 1904 saw only about 20,000 go to Cardiff but there were only one or two recorded cases of drunkenness. The incidence of arrests for drunkenness dropped by a massive 60%.
Despite this being a holiday period with the usual accompanying problem behaviours, there were hardly any arrests. Strangely the police had very little if anything to do – no reports of domestic violence, hotels reported they hardly had any customers even on Saturday night. Crime had almost ceased, and people started paying their outstanding bills. Town magistrates would come to the court only to find there were no cases. The miners put in a better day’s work.
Families were happier, many fathers and mothers were not spending their hard-earned money on alcohol and gambling. Many children for the first time received Christmas presents and some children for the first time experienced regular meals and some decent clothing.
The miners ceased using bad language, so much so that the pit ponies no longer understood them, leading to a slow-down in the mines. Bad language dropped everywhere.
People who had quarrelled for many years and held grudges forgave each other and were reconciled.
Could this, and did this, really happen?
Yes: It really did happen
Evan Roberts was born in 1878 in the small town of Loughor in Glamorgan, 11 kilometres from Swansea in Wales. He left school at 11, worked with his father at the mines until his early 20s. For a short time, he became a blacksmith’s apprentice with his uncle.
Evidence shows that as fifteen-year old teenager, Roberts, who was a strong believer in the things of God and a follower of Jesus, started praying for his town. He cared for these people and he could see that they were destroying themselves, their families and the community with their alcoholism, violence and neglect of their families. He knew God had a better plan for their lives.
He continued to pray regularly that God would visit the nation. Then during the spring of 1904 as Evan was preparing to go to Bible College, he was repeatedly awakened at 1:00 a.m. He met with God in prayer until 5:00 am.
God answered his prayer. As Roberts visited and spoke in his own town and most of the towns in Wales, God caused people to become aware of their sinful and rebellious behaviour. Sixty people in the first week it was estimated that some 100,000 to 180,000 responded by ‘inviting Jesus to take control of their lives’ over the next couple of years
Within two weeks, this great awakening became the Welsh Revival and was national news as reports came in from far and wide. Newspaper reports speak of reduction in crime, decrease in sexual immorality, workers worked harder for their employers and people have a sense of meaning and joy instead of despair.
People who did ‘invite Jesus into their lives’ were completely changed, life was different. The following article is but one of many newspaper reports about this change in society.
The Welsh Gazette on December 29th 1904
Travellers by the crowded trains on the Cambrian lines on Saturday had a new and wonderful experience.The Revival in Glamorganshire was the topic of conversation. At Maschynlleth, where the Aberystwyth and the Barmouth portions of the trains had to be divided, all the passengers from both trains congregated on the platform and an impromptu prayer meeting was held, earnest supplications being offered up that each person might carry the sacred fire with him to his destination, and there assist in the setting his own district ablaze. How the prayer has been answered a dozen Northern Counties can already testify. Statistics giving the number of converts in connection with Churches of South Wales collected up to the beginning of last week showed 19,654 converts.
Mr D Davies, Chairman of the Maesteg District Council giving his views as the effects of the Revival, say there is practically no police
work now as the quarrelling and drunkenness seem to be almost to an end. He had lived in the district all his life and had never seen the houses and the children so well cared for.
Last year something like 40,000 people mostly colliers visited Cardiff on Boxing Day, and crowds of them became the worse for drink. This year only half last year’s number were taken to Cardiff, and among those returning only one or two cases of drunkenness were noted. Number of persons taken to the Police Station for drunkenness decreased by at least 60%.”’
DavidCollier, the pastor who had seen the membership of his church grow from 500 to750 in a matter of months, remained in no doubt that they had been privileged to be part of a strange but life-changing movement of God. It has been estimated that between 100,000 and 180,000 lives were transformed by this movement.
These facts surely would want us to seriously consider our own situation as we experience increased rates of mental health, drug and alcohol abuse as well as domestic violence. Maybe we could explore and see if and how it would be possible for Australia to experience such a phenomenal and radical change in our society?
Newspaper reports on the Welsh Revival
All in ‘italics’ is taken directly from the actual newspapers of the time. You will notice that their English of over a century ago is slightly different to ours.
The Welshman, Carmarthen December 16th 1904
Now we must turn to more recent events to places where the smouldering fire of deep religious zeal has suddenly lighted into a flame of intense excitement and enthusiasm. At Peneul two Sundays back the preacher Rev Mr. Griffiths, of Black Mill, Galmorganshire, a gentleman who had come from the heart of the Revival district. Mr Griffiths read and prayed as usual, and then before commencing his sermon put a very startling question to the congregation. He asked plainly whether he should go on with his sermon or would they allow the Holy Spirit to enter and take charge of the proceedings. There was an awful, an almost unearthly stillness, which made everybody search his inmost self. The spell was broken, the whole congregation rose as one man to signify their willingness that the Spirit should do his work. A hymn was given … which was rendered in an entirely new, soul-stirring effect.
Everything from then onwards was done with a sincerity which had a meaning hardly ever before experienced. The congregation had listened attentively to a short account by Mr Griffiths on the Revival in his church and thrilled many hearts with stories of remarkable conversions.
A young man from his own flock went to one of Evan Roberts meetings at Bridgend, and on returning home entered a barber shop. There was a backslider under the influence of drink, who twitted (mocked) the young man for having been so foolish as to go and hear the collier-evangelist. Instantly he fell on his knees and prayed for the man, who was so affected, that he was converted. Today that man is bringing others to Christ. The preacher was sitting still in the pulpit, while young and old rose to pray, and to give their testimony.
Evening Express and Evening Mail
December 17th 1904
The Revival is believed to have been responsible for the small number of spectators who witnessed the match with Treorky on Saturday. A prayer meeting was held in the open air with the view of influencing the teams to abandon their pastime, but the footballers passed by quite reverently. It is evident that the Revival has improved the tone of the matches, because during the game, which was exciting at times, there was not a swear or foul word used by either the players or by those outside the ropes. The
provincial teams are fonder of using strong language than the home team.
Most Football clubs in the area said that the Revival did not affect the Saturday attendances (with one exception Caerphilly) at the matches. However, they were very aware of the less frequent use of strong language and that some of the players and coaches had been converted which was felt would be good for the game.
The London Welshman
January 21st 1905
A Solitary Ministerial Critic.
The Rev Tudor Jones had the dubious honour of being the only person to publicly criticise Evan Roberts visit to Wales.
The Rev Tudor Jones criticized Evan Roberts and suggested that he should have ‘stuck with his books’. (My note. Evan was preparing to go
to Bible College). The editor’s response “Had Mr Roberts ‘stuck to his books’ than many thousands of people who are now enjoying the beauty of the new life, would be still steeped in iniquity and sin. Yes, it was a happy day when Mr. Roberts left off ‘sticking to his books”.
The Welsh Gazette
February 9th 1905
The benefits of the Revival are apparent in every direction. Employers of labour affirm that there has been a decided improvement in the conduct of the employees and the character of the work. At Mount Ash Police Court last week there was only one person with a Welsh name charged with drunkenness, and referring to this fact, Sir Marchant Williams (the
stipendiary magistrate) he had noticed for some weeks that his work had been much lighter, especially in regard to drunkenness and the offences arising there from, and this, he was bound to attribute to the Revival. There could be the least doubt of its beneficial effects and he sincerely trusted that they would be permanent.
The London Welshman
February 18th 1905
This is a summary of an article in the above newspaper.
As the Revival had affected so many people and was the topic of conversation everywhere, it was not long before some people saw an opportunity to take advantage of this phenomenon.
A life size wax figure of Evan Roberts was created and was on display at the Waxworks Exhibition. Many toy sellers were selling medallions with the portrait of Evan
Roberts and were worn with pride on the lapels of many a young man’s coat. A number of Drapers were selling pocket handkerchiefs with a portrait of Roberts, including the printing of a verse from one of the popular Revival hymns, “Throw out the Lifeline.” Pictures and Postcards of the Revivalist and his team were for sale at many stationers and bookseller’s shops.
South Wales Gazette
The Revival……has been the absorbing theme of thought and discussion. Before it, the War, the state of trade, ordinary and extraordinary political topics, and even football, have been thrown into the shade as topics of general conversation.
Drunkards have been soberised, publicans have lost much business, conduct on public streets has been elevated, and the police and the magistrates have had quieter times…. The bottom of the pits has been utilised as centres of prayer and praise meetings, and there has been a general raising of the standard of public life.
The Revival still continues to monopolise general attention, almost everybody is talking about it, or working in its interest, and
the movement does not seem to flag at all… Converts are being made nightly, and the enthusiasm is intensifying and spreading.
….the chapel was packed in the afternoon…. And there was a warmer feeling in the assembly of colliery workmen – black faces, working clothes, and boxes and jacks – imparted when they dropped into the meeting on their way home…and started in a spirited manner of the songs of the revival, creating a fervour which did not flag during the remainder of the meeting.
We have collected the following statistics as to the number of conversions (people making a decision to become a follower of Jesus) recorded at some of the chapels in the district:
|Cwmtillery||54||Blaenau Gwent Baptist||425|
|Blaenau Gwent Primitives||35||Brynteg Congregational||98|
|Trinity Calvinistic Methodists||92||Ebenezer Baptists||465|
|Tabernacle Congregational||131||Wesleyan Methodist||45|
|Salvation Army||170||Somerset-street Primitive Methodist||350|
At these few Welsh chapels that we have records for, the maximum conversions were 1,888 in but a few mere months.
Written by Graham McDonald for the DIDUNO Network